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Dance Talks at Joyce SOHO – Unveiled: The World of Odissi Classical Indian Dance - Rajika Puri's lecture/demonstration

by Robert Abrams
February 11, 2008
Joyce Soho
155 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
212-431-9233
www.rajikapuri.com

For tickets to the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, go to www.joyce.org.

www.nrityagram.org
The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble is returning to the Joyce Theater on February 19-24, 2008. In preparation for this season, Rajika Puri, master Indian dancer and writer, gave a lecture/demonstration on Odissi, Nrityagram's main style of dance. Ms. Puri described the development of Odissi in recent times, broke the elements of the dance down for the audience so that they could gain a richer appreciation of performances, and showed videos that gave a personal introduction to some of the performers.

Ms. Puri, as readers of ExploreDance.com already know, is both an excellent scholar and performer. I am just going to mention a few tidbits of her presentation to whet your appetite.

Nrityagram, which means dance village, was set up as a training institute for Odissi just outside of Bangalore, India (as well as for other Indian dance forms, some of which have been realized to date and some of which have not). Odissi comes from India's Orissa state. Odissi was originally a temple dance meant to entertain the deity. During the British colonial period (which ended in 1947), the colonial administrators discouraged all forms of Indian dance because many in the Victorian Age saw dance as being immoral in the sense that it was perceived as too "sexual". Odissi and other Indian dance forms went into decline as a result (about 100 years ago). The Indian national movement, which worked to gain independence from British rule, wanted to show that India had classical traditions just like those that stem from ancient Greece in the West. This led to people reviving Indian traditional arts, including dance. Part of the problem was that, rightly or wrongly, traditional Indian dance forms had come to be associated with prostitution. A Brahmin, Krishan Iyer, in Madras City, now called Chennai, created a demonstration of the dance form that became known as Bharatanatyam. As a result of Mr. Iyer's work, people began to realize that Indian dance was capable of being art on the same level as classical ballet. The number of people who sought out local dance expertise, to study, preserve and refine Indian dance forms, began to increase. One result of this work has been the creation of a vibrant set of styles within Odissi.

Odissi was revived by studying temple sculptures from one thousand years ago and palm leaf manuscripts with drawings of the form's dance positions from two thousand years ago. The manuscripts also contained detailed descriptions in Sanskrit of the form's dance positions and movements. There have been several "body language geniuses" who have facilitated this process in recent times, including by creating new movements based on traditional principles of movement, poses and hand gesture.

Each gesture has a meaning, such as the face of a cow or a flute. Odissi is softer than Bharatanatyam. Ms. Puri, by showing each gesture, made the language of Odissi readable. The videos were often instructive in this regard too. For instance, a master dancer, Bijayini Satpathy of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, demonstrated a torso heart beat motion. The videos showed the gestures and motions combined into their finished form too, both as danced by Nrityagram, as well as by young dancers in an Indian village. Both were excellent. Ms. Puri also showed a video of the opening of Nrityagram's training center: one of the founding gurus (teachers) was asked to make footprints in cement. There is a long tradition in India of venerating the footprints of saints and saintly artists. Perhaps Hollywood imported the idea from India, or perhaps great minds think alike?

Many Odissi dances are set to verses in Sanskrit, sometimes with the dancer singing or chanting and dancing at the same time. The wife of one of the main poets of Orissa, Jayadeva, who wrote in the 13th Century, was a dancer.

Not everything in Odissi is a recreation of old forms. Though based on tradition, the new program at the Joyce is living choreography, kept fresh by the contributions of company members such as choreographer and artistic director Surupa Sen, who just won an award for her contribution to Odissi choreography. After all, as important as authenticity is, if you went back in time two thousand years and told a temple dancer that you were going to make sure that in two thousand years people would be dancing exactly the same steps as she was doing, she would probably respond, "Sure these steps are very good, but after repeating them ten thousand times, the gods are going to want something new."

Young dancers + old dance form = don't miss Nrityagram Dance Ensemble at the Joyce Theater.



The photo essay below was composed by Rajika Puri.
Jagannath - 'Lord of the world' - Lord Krishna in the form of the image in the Puri temple, located in the state of Orissa, from which Odissi dance originates.

Jagannath - 'Lord of the world' - Lord Krishna in the form of the image in the Puri temple, located in the state of Orissa, from which Odissi dance originates.

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


Temple relief of the basic Odissi stance: chowk or 'square', considered by dancers as related to the pose of the Jagannath image.

Temple relief of the basic Odissi stance: chowk or 'square', considered by dancers as related to the pose of the Jagannath image.

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra one of the architects of modern Odissi dance, (teacher of the founder of Nrityagram, Protima Bedi) in a pose which represents 'kiss'.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra one of the architects of modern Odissi dance, (teacher of the founder of Nrityagram, Protima Bedi) in a pose which represents 'kiss'.

Photo © & courtesy of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi


Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra one of the architects of modern Odissi dance, (teacher of the founder of Nrityagram, Protima Bedi) in a seated pose which captures lines of the feminine body.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra one of the architects of modern Odissi dance, (teacher of the founder of Nrityagram, Protima Bedi) in a seated pose which captures lines of the feminine body.

Photo © & courtesy of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi


Gotipuas - 'boy dancers' - from village of Raghurajpur near the temple town of Puri.

Gotipuas - 'boy dancers' -  from village of Raghurajpur near the temple town of Puri.

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


SUBASINI - one of the many ritualists who used to sing and dance for Jagannath image in the inner sanctum of Puri temple, a practice now lapsed.

SUBASINI - one of the many ritualists who used to sing and dance for Jagannath image in the inner sanctum of Puri temple, a practice now lapsed.

Photo © & courtesy of Govind Vidyarthy/Sangeet Natak Akademi


Temple sculpture of triple-bend poses of Odissi: 'alasa' and 'akunchana'

Temple sculpture of triple-bend poses of Odissi: "alasa" and "akunchana"

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


The late Protima Bedi, founder of Nrityagram, in a variation on the 'akunchana' pose.

The late Protima Bedi, founder of Nrityagram, in a variation on the "akunchana" pose.

Photo © & courtesy of Avinash Pasricha


The village of Nrityagram ('dance village') outside Bangalore in south India.

The village of Nrityagram ('dance village') outside Bangalore in south India.

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


Honouring a great teacher of Abhinaya - 'mime' - Kalanidhi Narayanan

Honouring a great teacher of Abhinaya - 'mime' - Kalanidhi Narayanan

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


Workshop in abhinaya - 'mime' - taught by Kalanidhi Narayanan at Nrityagram, with dancers like Pratibha Prahlad and Rajika Puri in the class.

Workshop in abhinaya - 'mime' - taught by Kalanidhi Narayanan at Nrityagram, with dancers like Pratibha Prahlad and Rajika Puri in the class.

Photo © & courtesy of Rajika Puri


Nrityagram Dance Ensemble in performance.

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble in performance.

Photo © & courtesy of Nan Melville


Surupa Sen (Artistic Director & choreographer) and Bijayini Satpathy (Director of the Odissi Gurukul dance training).

Surupa Sen (Artistic Director & choreographer) and Bijayini Satpathy (Director of the Odissi Gurukul dance training).

Photo © & courtesy of Nan Melville

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